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For Communities Hit Hardest By COVID-19, Sending Kids Back To School Is Particularly Fraught

Aubri Juhasz
Translator Grace Ambrossi and NOLA Public Schools parent Mayra Jucup at a press conference on July 20, 2020.

Black and Brown parents have been some of the most vocal opponents of New Orleans Public Schools’ plan to resume in-person learning early next month. Many are worried about their families’ safety after watching the coronavirus ravage their communities.

Mary Moran is the executive director of Nuestra Voz, or Our Voice, an organization that helps Black and Latino parents advocate for their children’s education.

“COVID has hit our communities the hardest,” Moran said. “We know that the decision to reopen schools is not an easy one. They’re decisions of life and death, but you haven’t asked the people who are dying what they think.”

Moran and a group of Nuestra Voz parents held a press conference on Monday outside of Morris Jeff Community School on South Lopez Street.

The group of parents had a message for NOLA Public Schools: Push back the in-person start of the school year, start the year online and work with parents to figure out a path forward.

Read more: New Orleans Teachers Don't Think Their Schools Are Prepared To Safely Reopen

Moran argues that the district hasn’t made enough effort to engage parents in the reopening process.

A handful of parents served on the district’s 33-person reopening task force and less than 5,000 parents responded to their community-wide survey. The district serves more than 45,000 students.

Mayra Jucup is a member of Nuestra Voz and has three children that attend NOLA Public Schools.

“You need to understand that we want to send our kids to school, but we’re just very concerned about their safety and their health,” Jucup said through a translator. “We know that virtual learning is not the same, but we’re worried about our children’s health.”

Like Jucup, many parents say they’ve felt shutout or underinformed. Some say they’re confused, others say they’re simply afraid.

Another parent, Denia, who only gave her first name due to safety concerns, said she won’t be sending her kids to school this fall.

“I am not going to risk my children’s health,” Denia said through a translator. “I am available as a parent to them to be with them and make sure they are getting virtual classes. But no, I will not be sending my children to school.”

She said she won’t send her two children to school until Louisiana is no longer considered a high-risk state or when a vaccine becomes available.

Monday’s press conference wasn’t the first time Black and Brown parents have spoken out against reopening schools.

Over the last few weeks, they’ve been vocal in town halls and have brought their concerns to officials in Baton Rouge.

Ashonta Wyatt, a New Orleans parent and educator, addressed the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week.

“When we talk about those marginalized communities that were referred to as ‘they’ and ‘them’ and never our, those are our children,” Wyatt said.

Politicians have frequently mentioned the disproportionate impact distance learning has had on low-income students of color as a reason to reopen schools. But what they often fail to acknowledge is how bringing these students back to the building could put their already vulnerable families and communities at even greater risk of contracting the virus.

Wyatt said she doesn’t understand the rush to reopen schools rather than improve remote learning. There are simple fixes she said, like making sure all children have access to an internet-enabled device and parents and teachers know how to use new platforms and software.

New Orleans Public Schools is currently assessing its decision to open schools for limited in-person learning next month and could choose to go completely virtual. They're expected to announce their decision later today. 

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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